top of page
Search

History of the word "Witch"

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Many moons ago I was perusing a random tarot group on facebook. The group was managed by a family living in Spain. A thread appeared in the metaverse complaining about scammers in private messages... The admins responded they "will not tolerate witches" and "witchcraft" in their group. A dumpster fire ensued. Every member that practiced (or didn't practice) wicca saw pyres in their eyes and screamed bloody murder "witches are good people they heal and nature and tiktok crystals blah aaarghhhaaaa!" The admins repeatedly responded to each one "That is fine. Those people are good. We don't want witchcraft. Don't want witches." This continued on and on. The language barrier should have been obvious yet the social media masses ignored obvious context clues in favor of raking the very sweet foriegn family through coals for "discriminating against witches." The masses even went so far as to create a smear campaign against them on tiktok, all because of Eurocentric ignorance and delusionally identifying too closely with a word, title, label, whatever. These people effectively embodied the exact evil they screamed about and accused the family of. It was profoundly fucking disgusting behavior.


Your labels do not define you. Ask yourself "What am I?" A name? You would still exist with any name. Your culture? You would still be you inside any culture. Your job title? You would still be you performing any job. Your religious title? I was myself before Vodou and I am still myself after. I was not chasing an identity when I pursued Vodou... Truly Vodou pursued me but that's off topic. "Witch" does not define you, so before taking peoples cultural understanding of the word "witch" as a personal attack, be a considerate adult and how about you clarify with the FORIEGN PERSON who does not use English as their first language, how they define it? Is that so hard?


I do not get upset when someone talks badly about a vodou mambo or ougan. I am not every mambo and no witch is every witch. "Witch" means different things in different parts of the world. Let the identification and emotion attached to the word... go. Let it go. Find a good mental health professional and strengthen those ego barriers.


Now...


"The word witch is derived from an old English noun wicca, meaning 'sorcery' and

the verb wiccian, which refers to " casting a spell." The original European concept

of witchcraft presupposed sorcery, an amalgam of beliefs and practices aimed at manipulating nature for the benefit of the practitioner or his/her client" (Russell in

Eliade 1987, Vol. 15:47)


"The most quoted illustration of witchcraft in the world is the now despicable

'witch-hunting phenomenon of Medieval Europe

Classical witchcraft implied the crime called maleficium, the practice of harmful

"black' magic. This was the performance of deleterious deeds by means of

extra-ordinary, occultic, mysterious, preternatural or supernatural power.

Examples of acts considered to be the result of witchcraft were:

(i) (ii)

the killing of a person by piercing a doll made in the person's image;

inflicting sickness on a child by reciting a spell;

(i)

bringing down hail on crops by burning enchanted substances;

(iv ) starting a fire by leaving a hexed sword in a room; and

causing impotence of a bridegroom by tying knots in a piece of leather and

(v)

leaving it in his proximity.

The Latin idiom for these acts was maleficia and in English they were referred to as witchcraft. The agents of these deeds were called malefici or maleficae. These terms were commonly used to identify witches in Medieval Europe. It is in the

characteristics and procedures of maleficia that European witchcraft resembles the type of witchcraft presumed to be prevalent in non-European societies which are

claimed to practise witchcraft today. The basic element in all witch-believing

societies is that witches are regarded as individuals who possess extra-ordinary or

mysterious powers to perform insidious activities. The essential feature is that

malevolent deeds are magical rather than religious acts. They are also deemed to be harmful and anti-social."


As you pull academic texts from around the world this remains a theme, that the word witch and witchcraft is associated with anti-social and malevolent behavior. It is only in the U.S. that at some point the masses asked, "What if a witch could be good?" Other cultures had words for good magic workers, like "Cunningmen" and "Cunningwomen." Romanticizing the witch was obviously more fun, like romanticizing the vampire as well. "Witch" was the specific word for BAD MAGIC. The magic that hurts others or takes away their free Will. The U.S. just decided to fuck with it, like how we childishly fuck with everything else and want to change the meaning of everything and language all the time.


"Around the 13th century, a new line of interpretation by the Church regarded

witchcraft as an explicit rejection of the Christian God and defection to his adversary,

the Devil. For about three centuries, witcheraft endured as an elaborate and

popularized concept through the Inquisition. The Inquest was unleashed against

those who were alleged to be deviant towards orthodox Christianity. The witch was

supposed to be a person who conspired with the Devil to work magic for the purpose of denying, repudiating and ridiculing the Christian God, that is, a conscious rejection of God and the Church."


Mesaki, S. (1995). THE EVOLUTION AND ESSENCE OF WITCHCRAFT IN PRE-COLONIAL AFRICAN SOCIETIES. Transafrican Journal of History, 24, 162–177.


Here is an excerpt about the Ibobo people of Nigeria and their understanding of witches.


"Among members of the spiritualist churches are men and women

(spiritualists) who are believed to be endowed with special powers by God. They,

with the help of Edisana Odudu, heal people of all kinds of infirmities, foretell the

future, pray for people to get promotion, rescue people from witchcraft attack,

and so on. Basing their belief on the Biblical statement that "with God all things

are possible," they believe that there is no limit to what they can do. Most

spiritualist churches designate Wednesday and Friday of every week as their

healing and "request' days. These prayer meetings are always filled to capacity

with people from all walks of life asking God for one favor or another. Of all the

non-orthodox beliefs among the Ibibio, witches pose the greatest threat.

The Ibibio word for both witch and witchcraft is ifot, which they use in two

senses. In the first usage, a witch is any person who behaves abnormally: that is

outside the expected patterns of behavior. Parents might thus refer to a child who behaves badly as a witch. Among abnormal behaviors likely to earn one the stigma of being a witch are manifestations of antisocial behavior such as: not

being fond of greeting people: living alone in an isolated area; enjoying adultery:

exacting too much for sales of anything: committing incest; walking about in the

night; crying at night (in cases of children); not showing adequate sorrow at the

death of a relative or somebody from within the community; not taking proper

care of one's parents (particularly aged parents), children, wife or wives; hard-

heartedness. In general, witches are mean-looking, mean-acting, or otherwise

socially disruptive people whose behavior deviates significantly from cultural or

community norms. What is obvious here is that deviance is not an attribute

inherent in certain forms of a behavior; it is an attribute conferred upon these

forms by social definitions. It is thus obvious that groups create deviance by

making rules, the infraction of which they then assign the definition of deviance.

By the same token, the Ibibio define what constitutes proper behavior, and those

who significantly deviate from such patterns are generally referred to as witches that is, wicked or anti-social or even asocial people. It should also be noted that

these characteristics are also associated with sorcerers (ifor), but the Ibibio

distinguish between witchcraft and sorcery.

In the second usage, a witch refers to the person that the community suspects

of practicing witchcraft, a person who has confessed to practicing the art, or a

person who has been identified by traditional doctors, spiritualists, or fellow

witches to be a witch. A witch usually possesses the qualities described in the first

usage of the term. Thus, once somebody confesses to being a witch or is

identified as one, people are usually not surprised since the person will possess

many anti-social and/or asocial characteristics. Since the characteristics believed to be associated with witches are well understood, anybody who possesses them is labeled as such. Thus, long before the confession or accusation of being a witch occurs, people gossip about the behavior of the person.


The Ibibio define witchcraft as some mystical or supernatural power that

causes harm, including death. This power is purely psychic. Those involved in the

art of witchcraft practice a form of incorporeal vampirism by removing the soul of

their victim and transforming it into goat, sheep, or COW (or any animal of their

choice), thus causing slow, wasting disease. According to the witches and others

interviewed, and the confessions at the 1978-79 witch purge, once the animal into

which the soul of their victim has been transferred is slaughtered and eaten by

them, the victim dies instantly. The symbolic cannibalism is done invisibly, and

only witches know what transpires. Witches, however, unlike sorcerers, do not

perform rites and do not use bad medicine. Essentially, witchcraft is a psychic act

that bridges the distance between the person of the witch and the person of his or

her victim, even though the originators may not voluntarily wish to bewitch their

victims.

The Ibibio conception of witchcraft is similar to that of the Azande (Evans-

Pritchard, 1937), except that the Ibibio do not believe in the "inherent quality'

of witchcraft. Both the Azande and the Ibibio believe that witches perform no

rites, cast no spells, and possess no medicines; they view it as purely a psychic act.

Like the Ibibio, the Nupe of Bida in northern Nigeria believe witchcraft is not

hereditary but must be acquired from a person who already has it. It is interesting

to note that while the Nupe say that witches are mostly women the Ibibio see

witches as being mostly men, but both agree that women are the most dangerous

witches (Nadel, 1954; 1952).

Like the Azande, the Ibibio believe that every witch has a physical substance

witchcraft, existing in his other body that allows the soul to engage in errands ta

harm their fellow beings. The Azande conceive of the witchcraft substance as a

"round, hairy ball with teeth' which is passed on from parent to child, with all

the sons of a male witch and all the daughters of a female witch being witches.


Offiong, D. A. (1983). Witchcraft among the Ibibio of Nigeria. African Studies Review, 26(1), 107–124


And another excerpt from a historical dictionary:


"Witchcraft in a more general sense was

understood to mean simply the practice of harmful forms of sorcery by

malevolent individuals, can be said to have existed in virtually every hu-

man culture throughout history. As these figures have almost universally

inspired fear and anxiety, so attempts at suppression of witchcraft and

the eradication of witches have also occurred throughout human history.

although never on the scale of the witch-hunts of Europe

Witchcraft has been a concern, it seems, from the very dawn of hu-

mankind. In ancient Mesopotamia, people believed that the world was

full of hostile supernatural forces and demons bent on the destruction of

human civilization. Both magical and religious rituals were widely em-

ployed to combat these hostile forces, which appear to have threatened

to undermine human society in much the way that witchcraft was later

conceived in Christian Europe. Authorities were concerned to expose

and punish any witches-individuals who aided or directed these de-

monic or hostile forces-and to devise means of protection from this

threat. 'The Babylonian magical ritual maqlu, for example, meaning

""burning" and referring to the incineration of certain magical effigies,

was designed to counter witchcraft.


Throughout the ancient Near-East and into South- and East-Asia, be-

lief in harmful magic and malevolent, witch-like figures is known to

have existed. As late as the 18th century, a major panic over the sup-

posed threat of harmful sorcery and the perceived existence of a con-

spiracy of evil sorcerers occurred in China. Beliefs akin to witchcraft

have also been widespread in Africa and civilizations in the Americas

Since, especially in Africa, these beliefs have persisted openly into the

modern era, they have been much studied by European anthropologists

and in turn by historians seeking to make comparisons to historical

witchcraft and witch-beliefs in Europe. Many similarities are evident. In

most A frican societies, for example, women are far more commonly as-

sociated with witchcraft than are men. In addition, witches are often

perceived to be not merely individual practitioners of harmful magic

but somehow organized and threatening to all of human society. In at-

tempting to distinguish "witchcraft" from mere "sorcery," anthropolo-

gists have often categorized as sorcery those beliefs hat involve hu-

mans learning to manipulate supernatural forcers in certain ways.

Witchcraft, by contrast, iS defined as operating (or t being believed to Op-

erate) through some innate power found in the witch herself."


Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft

2003

Michael D. Bailey

Iowa State University


There are many more sources and citations I have yet to add.


Americans love to romanticize and fantasize. Vampires as example are the age old symbolic antithesis of Life. Vampires either eat Life, or they poison Life by making another walking dead which LIVES ON LIFE BLOOD of others. Americans romanticized this by asking, "but what if vampires could be liiike.... good or something? Mmhhm... and sexy and sparkly. So what if you die? LOL he's fine as fuck yas gurl ahaaa..."


This is fine in the fantasy realm, but very problematic on the world stage where people still take vampire symbolism pretty seriously as a culture or in their traditional spiritual systems.


"Like omg you're discriminating against vampires" is not a good look with the rest of the world, just cause you have a fetish for being eaten and consumed. I get it. I've thought vampires were hot. Adrenaline rushes turn me on and I get a rush out of fucking with danger. I'm a little fucked up, and so are many people. It's okay, just be real about it for goodness sakes!


This same romanticising happened with the word "witch," likely starting with the movie Wizard of Oz. I still need sources to mark that time in U.S. history as when the attitude began to shift, but I'd bet that kicked it off. The idea appeared... "oooo I'll be a good witch! Dangerous and powerful and mysterious, AND GOOD." Well that already had words for it around the world, but the genius American masses had to be as edgy and rebellious as possible so they grabbed one of the world old devil words and decided to reinvent it.


That's like deciding, "Hmm zombies are edgy and mysterious... Let's make zombies, but make them sexy, and they'll be good samaritans too..." Hey that happened in Hocus Pocus. I hate to blow shit on Billy. Everybody loves Billy. No one started making cults of Billy though! He just wasn't dangerous or sexy enough I guess.


A Haitian or any other elder from across the world will look at you like you've already died... if you take a story about a "good" zombie remotely seriously.


That's what happened with "witch." And now it is a more acceptable term in the US associated to nature and crystals and that's fine. The rest of the world didn't do that. To them the word devil still means devil, not sparkly pornstar man dressed as the devil. Please be tolerant of other cultures usage and meaning. THAT is the problem. Tell them that HERE the word means different, and it means "nature based good spiritual magic person." They may still not understand. Instead of being a dick and grabbing at the victim pedestal of persecution, take a quick hop over to google and type in their country and ask what they call good magic. Easy peasy.


Don't shine Eurocentric ass about it, please.



25 views0 comments

留言


bottom of page